Facelift in Works for JEA $6 Million Set Aside for Improvements

Article excerpt

The old waterworks plant at Main and First streets isn't much of an attraction as the southern gateway to Jacksonville's historic Springfield neighborhood.

The spot, where water pumps have labored for 120 years, is bordered by a barbed wire fence that surrounds a roofless building, another small structure and various waterworks.

But a project by the JEA to turn the complex into a showplace is being planned as part of the public utility's multimillion-dollar effort to spruce up its properties citywide.

The JEA has set aside $6 million this year for about 80 projects, and more funding will come next year. Electric substations, water treatment plants, lift stations and reservoirs are among the facilities targeted for landscaping, renovations and demolition.

JEA Managing Director Walt Bussells said the work is being done for good public relations and to answer complaints he receives about the appearance of the company's facilities.

"We go out and talk to our customers about things they'd like us to continue to do and things they would like us to do differently. The appearance of our facilities comes up frequently," Bussells said. "We're working on it with the intent to increase customer satisfaction with the JEA."

Before the work is done on some of the larger projects, the JEA will hold community meetings to solicit public input, said Don Boggs, the JEA's vice president for logistics.

Two of the bigger plans involve the Main Street waterworks and the Randall Street electric substation off Roosevelt Boulevard near Riverside.

A brick pump house was built on the Main Street site about 1880, and additions were made in 1896, 1907 and 1915. According to Wayne Wood's Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage, an elaborate exhibition hall was built on the site in 1888 containing an electrically lighted fountain of stone and coral, with a pond containing rare fish and other exhibits. That was torn down in 1897.

About 20 years later, a huge water pump, driven by a reciprocating steam engine, was brought to the site by mule train. Nearly 5 million gallons of water a day were pumped by the plant until that pump was idled in 1956, when other pumps took over.

By mid-2001, the existing Main Street plant, which still pumps about 7 million gallons of water daily, will have a nicely landscaped entrance off Main Street, and the two smaller buildings will have been demolished.

The water treatment building will be cleaned and have new windows. Inside, the old water pump, still equipped with its original tools, will be dusted and fitted with a walkway so school groups can view it in a museum-type setting, said Larry Guevarra, the project manager.

Spectators also will be able to view new water-testing laboratories.

The work is expected to begin early in the summer and last about a year. …

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